Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Frazil Ice in Yosemite National Park

The last gasps of winter in the Yosemite Valley....

Check out this amazing video showing the "giant slurpee" that forms when "frazil ice" collects on Yosemite Falls, and flows down Yosemite Creek each spring like a lava flow.

As you might expect, the scenery in this film is quite awesome:

My wife and I visited Yosemite National Park for the first time this past fall. We did quite a bit of hiking while we were out there, and have posted several hike reports and photos on our new Discover the West website.


Monday, April 28, 2014

A Short Walk to the Edge of Life

Over the weekend I finished reading another compelling story of survival, this one fraught with hard lessons every adventurer should learn. Called A Short Walk to the Edge of Life: How My Simple Adventure Became a Dance with Death and Taught Me What Really Matters, it's the first full length book written by Scott Hubbartt, a retired combat veteran and Air Force Chief Master Sergeant. Hubbartt is also an historian, having earned an M.A. in History, with a post-graduate certificate in Latin American Studies. While in the Air Force he meet his wife, Carolina, who happens to be a native of Peru. This background would eventually lead to Scott's five-day "dance with death".

After retiring from the Air Force in 2004, Mr. Hubbartt was now free to spend more time traveling around the world, especially to Peru where he paid visits to his wife's family. As an historian he became quite interested in learning the fate of an old gold mine that was owned by Carolina's grandfather in the 1930s. The mine was located on the isolated Puna, the high plateau grassland region of the central Andes Mountains of Peru. So, with a bit of wanderlust and adventure, Hubbartt set-off on what he thought would be an 8-hour trek from the small mountain town of Chepen de Salpo. From there he intended to descend through steep canyons to a village called Poroto, where he hoped to find some clues as to the whereabouts of the old gold mine.

However, as you might guess from the title of the book, things didn't go quite as planned. As he laid there on the desert floor - exhausted, hungry and completely dehydrated, on perhaps the final night of life - Hubbartt summed it up fairly succinctly when he stated:
"I knew I had miserably messed up and was a victim of my own undoing. Pride, arrogance, and overconfidence were leading to my demise"
The story, and the trajectory of his life, however, took a sharp turn when the author received a strange vision from his deceased brother. Did this, and another unexplainable physical miracle, actually save his life?

I thought A Short Walk to the Edge of Life was a great read. Hubbartt does a great job of moving the story forward, while keeping you eager to turn the next page. My only complaint with the book was with the maps he published. Just as the author was confused with his compass readings, I was confused with the maps that showed his location each day. I think some basic contour lines with elevation readings, as well as distance figures, would've been very helpful to the reader. But this is just nitpicking, and shouldn't prevent you from reading an otherwise great story.

The book is scheduled to be released next week, but you can pre-order it on Amazon right now. You can click here for more information.

Rocky Mountain Hiking Trails

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Money allocated to fix flood-damaged roads in RMNP

Mark Udall, chairman of the U.S. Senate National Parks Subcommittee, welcomed the U.S. Department of Transportation's decision yesterday to allocate $3.5 million to repair roads in Rocky Mountain National Park damaged by the September 2013 flood. The funds, allocated through the Emergency Relief for Federally Owned Roads Program, will help fund permanent repairs to Old Fall River Road and for the Alluvial Fan area, and ensure visitors have a safe way to experience our national park heritage.

Udall surveyed roads damaged by the flooding inside Rocky Mountain National Park in November 2013.

"As chairman of the U.S. Senate National Parks Subcommittee, I understand firsthand how Rocky Mountain National Park is an economic driver for Estes Park and communities in Larimer and Grand counties. This important investment will ensure that the park is able to rebuild and continue to support mountain communities this year and into the future," Udall said. "I have been proud to lead the effort to help Colorado rebuild smarter and stronger in the wake of the September 2013 flood. These new funds will help Colorado continue down the road to full recovery."

During the historic storm of September 9th thru September 15th, the town of Estes Park received 9.43 inches of rain, while a rain gauge just south of Marys Lake reported 11.54 inches of rain.

Rocky Mountain Hiking Trails

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Canoeist Breaks 20-Year-Old Record for Highest Waterfall Drop

Last fall, Jim Coffey from Canada paddled over the 60-foot La Cascada de Truchas on the Alseseca River in Mexico. In doing so, he broke a record for the highest waterfall drop in a canoe that had stood for almost 20 years.

The previous record was held by Steve Frazier when he went over the 55-foot Compression Falls on the Elk River in Tennessee in 1994.

Although Coffey broke the record last fall, this video showing his amazing feat was only published two weeks ago:

Rocky Mountain Hiking Trails

Monday, April 21, 2014

Injured Elk Threatened by Onlookers: People Putting Arms Around Animal's Neck to Pose for Pictures!

Due to concerns about people approaching, feeding and harassing an injured cow elk grazing in a field near East Vail, Colorado Parks and Wildlife is issuing stern warnings about the dangers of approaching wild animals.

In recent days, local police and state wildlife officers have received calls from the public reporting that they have witnessed large crowds walking up to the animal. In some instances, a few people have been seen putting their arms around the animal's neck as they pose for pictures.

"It is not only extremely irresponsible and unethical to harass and feed wildlife, it is also illegal and they will be fined if caught," said Northwest Regional Manager Ron Velarde. "These people are essentially condemning the animal to death and putting our officers in the position of having to carry out the sentence."

Velarde warns that despite initial appearances, wild animals instinctively have little tolerance for humans. He adds that it is likely only a matter of time before the cow elk becomes agitated to the point of charging and injuring a person that gets too close.

Because human health and safety is a priority, animals that injure a human are often killed by wildlife officers out of an abundance of caution, regardless of the circumstances.

Area wildlife officials report that the elk appears to have an injured rear leg, possibly limiting its ability to move away from onlookers. They warn that the injury is an additional stressor that could lead to a physical reaction from the animal.

"We continuously provide guidance to the public about the best way to enjoy wildlife, and this is definitely not the way to do it," added Velarde. "We are appealing to the public to leave this animal alone immediately."

Colorado Parks and Wildlife advises the public to watch wildlife from a distance with binoculars, a camera or spotting scope. In addition, the public is advised to keep dogs on leashes in areas where encounters with wildlife are likely. Because dogs are a serious threat to wild animals, any law enforcement official is authorized to use lethal force to stop a dog that is chasing or injuring wildlife.

"If a wild animal reacts to you or your dog, you are too close," said Velarde. "Keep your distance, keep dogs on a leash and remember to use good judgement around wildlife."

Colorado Parks and Wildlife advises the public to report illegal activity to the nearest CPW office, State Patrol or call Operation Game Thief at 877-265-6648 if you wish to remain anonymous. Rewards may be available if the report leads to a citation.

Rocky Mountain Hiking Trails

Saturday, April 19, 2014

U.S. Forest Service Offers Public Meetings in Nederland and Lyons on Flood Efforts

Boulder Ranger District (BRD) staff of the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests and Pawnee National Grassland will host an open house to discuss information about ongoing flood recovery efforts on National Forest System lands.

Since the September 2013 floods, the forest landscape has changed dramatically and representatives from the Flood Recovery Team would like to provide the public opportunities to learn about natural resource recovery, affected recreational opportunities and National Forest System lands access.

Meetings will be held at the following locations and dates:

* April 22nd, 6:00 – 8:00 p.m. at the Nederland Community Center in Nederland, CO

* April 30th, 6:00 – 8:00 p.m. at Rogers Hall in Lyons, CO

The meeting format will be an open house with a brief presentation at 7:00 p.m.

For more information contact Ben Johnson at benjamincjohnson@fs.fed.us or call (303) 541-2544

Rocky Mountain Hiking Trails

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Elevated Levels of Mercury Found in Fish in Rocky Mountain National Park

Mercury has been discovered in fish in some of the most remote national park lakes and streams in the western United States and Alaska. Mercury levels in some fish exceeded U.S. Environmental Protection Agency health thresholds for potential impacts to fish, birds, and humans.

The information about mercury, and its appearance in protected areas considered to be relatively pristine and removed from environmental contaminants, is in a recently published scientific report from the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Park Service.

This study of mercury in fish is the first of its kind to incorporate information from remote places at 21 national parks in 10 western states, including Alaska. Western parks were selected for this study because of the significant role that atmospheric mercury deposition plays in remote places, and the lack of broad-scale assessments on mercury in fish in remote areas of the west.

Mercury concentrations in fish sampled from these parks were generally low, but were elevated in some instances. The study examines total mercury in fish, of which 95 percent is in the form of methylmercury, the most dangerous form to human and wildlife health.

Mercury is harmful to human and wildlife health, and is among the most widespread contaminants in the world. It is distributed at a global scale from natural sources, such as volcanic eruptions (responsible for approximately half of atmospheric mercury emissions), emissions from the ocean, and forest fires, and from human sources such as burning fossil fuels in power plants, gold mining, and incineration of municipal and medical waste. Mercury is also distributed at local or regional scales as a result of current and historic mining activities. These human activities have increased levels of atmospheric mercury at least three fold during the past 150 years.

Between 2008 and 2012, NPS resource managers collected more than 1,400 fish from 86 lakes and rivers, and USGS scientists measured mercury concentrations in fish muscle tissue. The authors found that mercury levels varied greatly, both between parks and among sites within each park. In most parks, mercury concentrations in fish were moderate to low. In fact, mercury concentrations were below EPA’s fish tissue criterion for safe human consumption in 96 percent of the sport fish sampled.

However, the average concentration of mercury in sport fish from two sites in Wrangell-St. Elias and Lake Clark (Alaska) national parks exceeded EPA’s human health criterion. Additionally, mercury levels in individual sport fish at some sites from Lassen Volcanic (California), Mount Rainer (Washington), Rocky Mountain (Colorado), Yellowstone (Wyoming), and Yosemite (California) national parks also exceeded the human health criterion.

The National Park Service is currently coordinating with state officials regarding potential fish consumption advisories. Exposure to high levels of mercury in humans may cause damage to the brain, kidneys, and the developing fetus. Pregnant women and young children are particularly sensitive to the effects of mercury.

Mercury at elevated levels can also impact wildlife resulting in reduced foraging efficiency, survival, and reproductive success. Mercury concentrations exceeded the most conservative fish toxicity benchmark at 15 percent of all sites, and the most sensitive health benchmark for fish-eating birds at 52 percent of all sites.

For more information and to view the report, please click here.

Rocky Mountain Hiking Trails

Injured Climber Rescued During Spring Storm

The combined efforts of search and rescue teams from Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Ouray Mountain Rescue, West Elk Mountain Rescue and Western State Mountain Rescue resulted in the successful evacuation of an injured climber from the Atlantis buttress during a spring storm this past Sunday.

Black Canyon park officials received a report of an injured climber on Saturday evening. Climbing rangers, including a park paramedic, located the climber late that evening and bivouacked overnight with him, treating his several injuries. The climber was injured when he pulled a large boulder off the wall while leading a pitch on a route called “Hotlanta” on the Atlantis buttress.

Additional technical rescue teams arrived on Sunday to help raise the climber 1,800 feet to the canyon’s North Rim. Intermittent whiteout conditions with heavy, wet snow and gusty winds challenged the rescuers during this high angle rescue.

The climber, who is from Durango, Colorado, was taken to a medical facility with ankle, chest, and facial injuries. He is in stable condition.

Rocky Mountain Hiking Trails

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Scouts Donate Cookie Sale Profits to Rocky Mountain SAR Team

Each year, Loveland Girl Scout Brownie Troop 74394 chooses a local hero to receive donated boxes of Girl Scout cookies. This year, the troop chose Rocky Mountain National Park Search and Rescue as their 2014 Hometown Heroes. Eighty-nine boxes of cookies were donated by citizens.

On April 3rd, Troop 74394 showed their special appreciation to all of the personnel at Rocky Mountain National Park involved with search and rescue efforts by providing a delicious spaghetti luncheon to say thank you.

The troop also sold over 2,200 boxes of cookies this year and donated 20% of its profits to Rocky Mountain National Park Search and Rescue. During the luncheon, they presented a plaque honoring park search and rescue personnel for all of their dedicated service.

Rocky Mountain Hiking Trails

Monday, April 14, 2014

Mesa Verde National Park Announces Special Hikes and Tours for 2014

Mesa Verde National Park is again offering a series of unique ranger-guided educational experiences in 2014. Tickets for these special hikes are limited and must be purchased online at recreation.gov.

Ranger-guided hikes and programs include a half-day hike into Upper Navajo Canyon, a 2-hour hike to Mug House, a half-day hike on Wetherill Mesa, and four tours of Yucca House National Monument. In addition, tickets for Twilight Tours of Cliff Palace, which feature a historical figure from the past, and a new Photography Tour at Cliff Palace will be offered on-line. Check the website for more detailed descriptions of each program.

Mug House:

Named for three mugs tied together with yucca rope found hanging inside one of its rooms, Mug House was built over several decades in the A.D. 1100s and 1200s and likely supported a population of 80 to 100 people. This strenuous 2-hour, 3-mile (4.8km) round-trip hike follows an unpaved, uneven trail that descends 100 feet (30m), and includes steep drop-offs, switchbacks, and scrambling up and down boulders. Mug House is available from May 27, 2014 to August 30, 2014 on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Tickets cost $25 per person, and group size is limited to 10 people per hike.

Yucca House National Monument:

Four ranger-guided tours to Yucca House National Monument are offered this year. Yucca House is a large, unexcavated pueblo which was probably built around AD1200. Tours are scheduled on Wednesday, May 14 and Friday, May 16, and on Wednesday, September 10, and Friday, September 19. This easy to moderate 1-hour, 1/2-mile (0.8 km) walk is along a mostly level, unpaved path.Tickets cost$5 per person, and group size is limited.

Upper Navajo Canyon:

Enjoy the autumn weather and fall color as you hike this historic trail, built in the 1930s by the Public Works Administration. Hikers will view Pinkley House and other small alcove sites and experience two natural communities as they descend from the drier mesa top to the mountain chaparral in the canyon bottom. This moderate 4-hour, ~4-mile (6.4km) round-trip hike is along an unpaved, uneven trail that descends 760 feet (232 m) into upper Navajo Canyon, with steep drop-offs and switchbacks. This hike is offered Wednesdays and Sundays, from September 3 to October 5, 2014. Tickets are $18 per person, all ages. Group size is limited to 14 people.

Wetherill Mesa Experience:

Expansive canyon views, spectacular glimpses of cliff dwellings, and Wetherill Mesa in the autumn will reward hikers on this moderate 4-hour, 4-mile (6.4-km) round-trip hike. This moderate half-day hike follows an old fire road and an unpaved trail that crosses Wetherill Mesa. This hike is offered Tuesdays and Fridays, September 2 to October 3, 2014. Tickets are $18 per person, all ages, and group size is limited to 14 people.

Twilight Tours of Cliff Palace:

Twilight Tours offer a historical perspective on Cliff Palace and Mesa Verde National Park. Costumed interpreters introduce visitors to famous characters from the past. Twilight Tours are scheduled on Sunday through Thursday evenings from May 25 through September 4. Tickets cost $12 per person.

Photography Tour in Cliff Palace:

Photographers, here is an opportunity to spend 90 minutes in Cliff Palace with a park ranger in a small group setting. Dramatic sunset lighting will appeal to both amateur and professional photographers as well as those seeking a deeper connection with this extraordinary archeological treasure. The tours are offered on Friday and Saturday evenings from May 23 to September 6. Tours are limited to 10 people. Tickets are $20 per person.

Mesa Verde National Park offers a spectacular look into the lives of the Ancestral Pueblo people who made it their home for over 700 years, from A.D. 550 to A.D. 1300. Today, the park protects almost 5,000 known archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings.

For reservations or more information, visit www.recreation.gov or call 1-877-444-6777.

Rocky Mountain Hiking Trails

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Celebrate National Park Week 2014 With FREE Admission and Special Events

The National Park Service, in partnership with the National Park Foundation, recently announced that the nation’s 401 national parks will celebrate National Park Week April 19-27 with a free admission weekend and special events nationwide.

The theme for this year’s National Park Week invites visitors to “Go Wild” for history, nature, culture, wildlife, and fun in America’s national parks. Additional information, including a list of National Park Week events nationwide can be found online at www.nationalparkweek.org.

“National Park Week is a great time to discover the diverse wildlife, iconic landscapes, vibrant culture, and rich history found in our national parks,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. “Every park offers a different experience so I invite everyone to join the celebration and get to know a park. And, to get the party started, all national parks will have free admission on April 19 and 20.”

Using the resources on the National Park Week website, visitors can plan park experiences based on their specific interests. A calendar of events includes many special National Park Week programs, including National Junior Ranger Day activities on April 26. Young visitors can take part in family-friendly activities and be sworn in as junior rangers at many parks. Visitors using the website can also share national park photos, videos, and tips, and learn about all the ways to help support national parks all year.

National Park Week also offers many opportunities for the public to explore local parks, trails, and architectural gems sustained by National Park Service programs such as the Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance program and theNational Register of Historic Places.

Rocky Mountain Hiking Trails

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Hiking a Classic: Mt. LeConte

The hike to Mt. LeConte via the Alum Cave Trail is one of the classic hikes in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There are several trails in the park that are far longer, gain more elevation, and have steeper climbs, but the Alum Cave Trail is unmatched in its combination of interesting geological features, history, high adventure and stunning views. Below is a video highlighting many of the sights hikers will enjoy along the way. For more detailed information on this classic Smokies hike, please click here.

If you do plan to visit the Smokies this year, please note that our website offers a wide variety of accommodation listings to help with your vacation planning.

Rocky Mountain Hiking Trails

Monday, April 7, 2014

Andrew Skurka Presents: The Ultimate Lightweight Hiking Skills Clinic

Renowned long-distance backpacker and former National Geographic "Adventurer of the Year", Andrew Skurka, will be at the American Mountaineering Center in Golden, Colorado next month to present his clinic on Lightweight Hiking Skills.

The event is sponsored by the Colorado Mountain Club, and will take place at 7pm on May 7th.

A backpacking trip consists of two distinct activities: hiking and camping. In this instructional clinic Skurka will discuss the gear, supplies and skills necessary to make hiking more fun and less work, without compromising your safety or your comfort in camp.

It begins with a discussion about how to define trip objectives and how to assess the environmental and route conditions that are typically encountered on a backpacking trip - like temperatures and precipitation. Skurka will then explain exactly what he would bring on a hypothetical multi-day trip in a nearby and familiar location of the audience’s choosing. He focuses not just on his footwear, shelter, food, and other gear and supplies, but also on critical skills like foot care, campsite selection, and food protection techniques.

Questions from and discussions with audience members are highly encouraged, and are in fact critical to maximizing the value of the clinic.

In addition to a variety of high profile adventures, Mr. Skurka is also the author of The Ultimate Hiker's Gear Guide.

For more information on the event, please click here.


Thursday, April 3, 2014

Lily Lake Roadside Pile Burn Planned For April

If conditions allow, Rocky Mountain National Park staff are planning to burn piles located in the Lily Lake area along Highway 7. These piles were generated in a hazardous fuels reduction project designed to generate a potential barrier in case of wildfire.

The park plans to light the piles when wind speeds, directions and smoke dispersion are favorable. Because the piles are next to Highway 7, there is a slight potential for traffic delays if smoke obscures the road. Therefore, due to the ongoing road construction from flood impacts on US Highway 36 and US Highway 34, ignitions will only occur at Lily Lake when there are no reroutes or significant delays on those highways.

Why are hazardous fuels reduction projects important? When fighting the Fern Lake Fire in 2012, firefighters were able to take advantage of previous and existing prescribed fire and hazardous fuels treatment areas that provided a buffer between the fire and Estes Park. Prior hazard fuels projects were instrumental in stopping the fire from jumping Bear Lake Road.

Pile burning operations will only begin when conditions allow. Safety factors, weather conditions, air quality and environmental regulations are continually monitored as a part of any fire management operation. For more information please contact the park's Information Office at 970-586-1206.


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Celebrate Rocky Mountain's 100th Anniversary With Hikes and Other Events

On September 4, 1915, hundreds of people gathered in Horseshoe Park to celebrate the dedication of America’s newest playground, Rocky Mountain National Park. Signed into law on January 26th of that same year by President Woodrow Wilson, Rocky Mountain National Park would forever protect the incredible resources found within its boundaries so that future generations might also benefit from its beauty and wildness.

As the 100th year anniversary of its creation approaches, Rocky Mountain National Park will be planning events and working with partners and surrounding communities to commemorate the events and relationships that have made the park what it is today. In order to accommodate the greatest variety of events possible, celebration of the Rocky Mountain National Park 100th Anniversary will begin on September 4, 2014, and will continue through September 4, 2015.

Already on the list are several guided hikes. The Colorado Mountain Club will be offering hikes, climbs, and wildflower walks throughout the anniversary year. Also, later this year, on September 5th, the Rocky Mountain Nature Association will be offering a naturalist-guided hike along the Ute Trail  (please call 970-586-3262 for details).

The park itself will also be offering a guided hike along the Lily Lake Trail on September 6th.

For a complete list of events currently scheduled for the year-long celebration, please click here. You should note that additional events will be added as we approach the anniversary.

Rocky Mountain enthusiasts may also want to note that award-winning author Mary Taylor Young has recently published a new book that celebrates the park's centennial. In addition to telling the story of the park, Rocky Mountain National Park: The First 100 Years is illustrated with more than 250 historical and landscape images. Mary will be giving a presentation on her new book at the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center Auditorium on September 27th as part of the Centennial Speaker Series.

If you plan to visit Rocky Mountain National Park during the centennial celebration, or anytime this year, please note that our website offers a wide variety of accommodation listings in both Estes Park and Grand Lake. Also, don't forget to check out our other Things To Do page to help with your trip planning.


Tuesday, April 1, 2014